Can Cats and Home Theaters Coexist?

My blog is open to any non-blogging UAV writer. Why should I have all the fun? Today, reviewer and contributing editor Steven Stone chimes in with advice for feline-loving audio- and videophiles.

This space is also open, in fact, to any reader who contributes an interesting letter or commentary that I believe all readers will find interesting. Boot up those word processors and send your deathless prose in to!—TJN

When my wife and I tell fresh acquaintances that we have eight cats they usually give us a look reserved for Jehovah's Witnesses or someone who's started speaking in tongues. We are not crazy. Our house does not reek of cat leavings. Actually the cats spend most of their time in my home theatre room. Given cats' predilection for sharpening their claws on any cloth-covered vertical object this could be a big problem, but it isn't. Let me share my secrets of how home theaters can co-exist with felines.

Over the last ten years I can only come up with one incident when a cat irrevocably damaged a component. I used to have one cat that was, for lack or a better word, bulimic. She would eat till she was too full and then eject the excess food. She often left the results near where she had been sleeping. One time she was napping on top of an amplifier under review. You can guess the rest. When I went to use the system later in the day, one channel on the amplifier no longer worked. Explaining why the amp had failed to its creator was, um, messy. I emphasized that the cat's reaction was in no way a comment upon the amplifier's sonic quality, merely an example of wrong place and wrong time. I'm not sure the manufacturer ever fully forgave me. Recently I ran into him in the lobby of a hotel at CEDIA. He mentioned he had thought of me recently when a speaker designer had returned a damaged review sample. Seems the designer's two-year-old child had been dancing on top of the amp when she lost control. Baby pee is far more destructive to an amp's innards than cat puke. I'm no longer #1 on his "Do Not Loan" list.

Cats can co-exist with home theater gear. The trick is to think like a cat. Spikes, metal tiptoes, Magic bricks, and even un-magic ordinary bricks work well on top of amps to ward of feline incursions. Even if your cat never leaves any bodily juices on an amplifier, the long-term effects of cat hair on the insides of an amp isn't pretty.

Also I don't leave my amplifiers idling to keep them ready for use. A cold amp is far less attractive than a warm one. I usually use the first half-hour of movie night for cartoons anyway. Who cares if roadrunner's beep-beep is a hair splitchy on top?

It took me a while to learn how to best protect speaker grills, drivers, and foam sound absorbers from my cats' claws. My less successful stratagems yielded a slew of shredded grill covers, punctured driver surrounds, and a constant deluge of bits of acoustic foam littering my home theater's floor. At first I tried spraying the cats with water when they tried using off-limits objects for scratching posts. But unless you intend to be around 24/7 with spray bottle in hand, this doesn't work. Also cleaning up the near misses, especially when they land on active electronics gets old really quick.

I even tried sprinkling cayenne pepper on stuff I didn't want the cats to scratch. That worked, sort of, but it looked so funky, with red splotches on everything, that I gave that up. To encourage the cats to do the right thing I installed several scratching posts in my home theater and laced them with catnip to focus their activities in the right place. Two of my eight cats stopped using anything but the posts for claw sharpening. The other six couldn't have cared less. I even tried those kitty claw condoms that go over the tips of a cat's claws. Let me tell you from first-hand experience dull tips can do just as much damage to foam and speaker grills as sharp ones.

My final solution for protecting my speaker grills and foam absorbers was fiendishly simple – cardboard. I have made protective cardboard covers for all my speakers and sound absorbers. In several cases I have the cardboard covers set up so that if a cat tries to use them as scratching post they will fall backwards, onto the perpetrator. Cruel? Not really, when's the last time you heard of a cat being hurt by a large piece of falling cardboard? Scares 'em pretty good though. It takes me a minute or two to remove all the cardboard covers when I use my system, but the extra bit of hassle is worth it. My latest speaker covers and foam absorbers have been in place for over a year now and look as pristine as when I first installed them.

Here's to the power of cardboard.